The honest-to-goodness truth of it all is that Gregg is broken after Mere, after Peter.
He’s broken, but he’s not left with nothing.
Mere’s sisters are there, making sure he eats, making sure he’s paying bills and getting out, same as they were when their momma died.
And just the same as when their momma died, Gregg doesn’t need the coddling.
Not that he’ll ever say it. But that’s the honest-to-goodness truth of it.
So he’s eating lasagna from the freezer, still shaped a little like the tupperware it came in from Vicky’s—his youngest—with a stripe of masking tape labeling it “For Tuesday.”
But he’s a grown man. It’s Thursday.
He’ll do what he likes.
But it’s Thursday and there’s lasagna, and he doesn’t know what it is that sparks the memory, doesn’t know what stray line of blabbering from the television takes him back all those years, makes it all seem like it slots together true, here and now. He doesn’t know.
All he knows is that he can hear his wife’s voice, his Minnie saying to him, clear as day:
You should write it down, honey. You always have the best stories.
And it’s been months; it’s pushing a year.
It’s been months, pushing a year, and he’s still got his kids cooking him dinners he doesn’t need.
But now—now, maybe he’s also got a story to tell.
And maybe it’ll help.
Maybe it’ll help if he writes it down.
It doesn’t make much of a splash, in terms of sales.
But then, that was never the point.
Gregg takes the first of the royalties from The Adventures of Star-Lord straight past the bank and into the florist’s.
He buys the biggest bouquet of sunflowers they’ve got, and splits it between Minnie and Mere, brightening the gravestones.
On his way out, he gives into the tug behind his ribs and lets a stray petal from one of the blossoms catch on the wind and ride upward; upward.
For you, little Star-Lord.
There are highs and lows.
The anniversaries are rough.
1997 is a great year for fantasy literature, and he gets to ride that bubble for a while. Puts in a deck out back. Builds it with his own hands, just to prove he still can.
It takes too long, but what does he have but time, these days?
Sammy—his middle girl, the oldest now, and hell if that doesn’t sting all around, even still—gets divorced in ‘98. Vicky gets pregnant by surprise in 2002, and gives him the sweetest baby granddaughter, and Gregg thinks maybe by the time she’s got teeth, he’ll be ready to set foot in the diner Peter used to love, with the burgers.
The economy tanks in 2008. Sammy gets remarried to a man with money. Vicky loses her job, and Gregg’s social security goes towards crayolas and a backpack for little Rachel when she starts school, rather than a trip to that diner.
Gregg’s grateful, on that account. She’s had teeth for a while, but he still isn’t ready.
They reboot Star Trek in ‘09, and he gets more from book sales that year than ever before. They invite him to some convention to try and drum up more interest, and someone approaches him with ideas for a sequel, but he turns them down.
Star-Lord’s story ends the way it was always meant to.
Gregg promised himself he let that lie.
2010’s a long year. Real long.
2011 is much longer.
“Shoulda seen it, baby,” he tells the headstone, after the Battle of New York, and he’s always tried not to think too hard about talking to a piece of rock like it’s his daughter, like it means the same. “Aliens falling out of the sky left and right.”
He draws in a shaky breath.
“S’that what it was like?” he asks, not sure where he’s going; not sure why. “S’that what it was like, with Peter’s daddy?”
There’s no response. Not that there would be; or should be.
Sometimes, though, the silence feels like a judgement. Feels like retribution for the fact that Gregg lost two lives in one day.
“Maybe you did see it,” he murmurs to the ground, to his feet in the dirt. “Maybe you were watching anyway.”
It’s the girls at the supermarket that clue him in.
It’s not that he doesn’t follow the news, just that he’s not a slave to it. It’s stressful, these days. Being informed.
But he knows there was some nastiness on the Eastern Seaboard—again, and they can keep it there for all Gregg’s concerned—but there was some thing with a glove and the good Cap and his crew, and that Stark fella; the big green guy and the blond with the hammer, and that new one, with the shiny arm. He knows there was some nastiness, and it didn’t look good for the home team, until a small green girl and a tree and some other starship wonders came down to lend a hand.
After that, though, Gregg’d mostly tuned out. He’d written about all those flights of fancy once, sure, but in the real world? It’s just too much to fit in his head, most days.
But the girls at the supermarket, over by the magazines: they’re fanning themselves like victorian ladies, ooing and ahhing and going, Star-Lord.
The first thought is that they’d found his long-forgotten novel, and that’s a nice idea, so he goes home and looks at the Amazon sales ranks: up from last week.
That’s a treat.
Gregg makes himself lasagna: in a pan, fresh from the oven, shapeless and saucy
just like Minnie used to, and almost half as good.
But then Gregg watches the news the next morning.
And he realizes that any bump in his book sales after all these years is simply the luck of a name, because there he is, the man in the long red coat, with the bug-eyed mask on his face and the guns in both hands, with the banner across his image on Channel 33:
Leader, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Gregg stills, and his blood runs cold, and he wonders what dying feels like; wonders if this is it.
And the honest-to-goodness truth of it all is that they live in a time of interstellar beings and galactic conflict. Which means that the name isn’t all that original anymore, if it ever was. It doesn’t just belong to him, doesn’t just belong to his baby girl and her baby boy. Fact is, s’more than likely that someone from the actual stars has got the name of “Star-Lord” these days.
But that doesn’t mean that Gregg doesn’t hope that the eyes behind the mask that never seems to come off might be familiar.
That doesn’t mean, after all this time, that Gregg’s not praying for a miracle.
It’s almost against his will, it’s almost without any thought that he drives; that he drives and drives and ends up at the diner, Peter’s favorite: the one a few hours out of their way but the site of every celebration, from Peter’s birthday to a good report card—Gregg ends up at the diner.
And there’s an Ent inside.
There’s an ent with a green lady, and a raccoon, like the ones from TV.
Exactly like the ones from TV.
And they’re all sitting—save the tree—around an impossible spread of food, every sandwich and side on the damned menu, staring skeptically at the feast; or maybe, at the man who’s seated front and center, grin broad and eyes glittering as he grabs for a burger and bites off a hunk before moaning, far too loud: "These burgers are insane, man, you can't get them anywhere else, I swear."
And the racoon is complaining that the meat’s not cooked through, and the waitress shrieks when he aims some kind of laser gun at the beef patty and fires until he’s satisfied.
And the green woman is sipping on a milkshake, nodding her head along to the music streaming through the speakers.
And the tree is smiling full and wide at the lettuce that garnishes the plates, picking up a leaf and rumbling happily: “We are Groot!”
And the body builder with the red tattoos is asking: "The burgers… are mentally unstable?"
And the man in the middle groans, muffled through a mouth full of burger: “Fuck, dude. We were making progress.”
The man in the middle’s got wide eyes; bright eyes: his mother’s eyes.
The man in the middle’s got a long red coat.
Gregg can’t breathe.
Never let it be said that Greggory Quill was a coward: he calls out from the front entrance of the establishment, and the man with the coat, the man with the eyes—dear God, it’s Peter; he looks up, he blinks, and Gregg can see the way the air catches in his lungs from across the room; Gregg feels it in his own chest for as tight as it feels, for as hard as his old heart’s working just to pump.
“Holy shit,” Peter breathes, getting to his feet as Gregg walks: slow, to make up for how unsteady he is, he feels.
“Language,” Gregg chides, automatic, and between one breath and the next the man before him is tall, strong, grown; is small, scrappy, soft, young.
“The sanctification of excrement,” the body builder asks softly. “Is that a common ritual on your Outlaw Planet, Quill?”
Peter shakes his head and nearly knocks over a chair or two as he makes his way closer, as he gets near enough to touch.
“Grampa,” he breathes out, and he’s close, he’s so close that Gregg can see the glimmer of tears in the corners of those eyes. “You’re...”
And Gregg wrote this: the end of Star-Lord’s adventures. He wrote them seeing each other again, he wrote Peter coming back a hero—he wrote this scene, where he grounded Peter back to his room, and even twenty-some years later, Peter’d bit his bottom lip and said alright, knowing that Gregg just wanted to keep him for a while, just needed him to stay.
Gregg can’t swallow, and his hand is shaking too much to raise, to reach.
“Gonna eat your greens, son?” he rasps out, and he glances as the table behind them, littered with chilli fries and jalapeno poppers. “You know the rules.”
Peter blinks again, and there’s something small and wet that slips to his lashes, that falls down his cheek.
“I am Groot,” the tree holds out a leaf of lettuce toward them, and Gregg’s too stretched, too full, too overcome, and when he laughs, it’s all sorts of things that are joyous and heartbroken, coming out at once.
When Peter wraps his arms around him—solid, warm—Gregg thinks if this is dying, he sure as hell doesn’t mind.
The world’s changed. Gregg knew that.
But sitting down with his long-lost grandson, who is intergalactically-known as both a savior and a bandit, having adventures from one end of the universe to the other with this merry band of misfits that Gregg can tell right away he’s going to like, if he’s given the chance to get to know them, if he’s allowed that much time: sitting with only one person who looks like anything he’s ever seen before, Gregg has to wonder if this is a dream, has to wonder if this is what comes after; has to question whether any of this is real.
But then Peter gestures to the waitress and orders a triple chilicheese burger and a side of cauliflower, and Gregg nearly loses it because hell, he hasn’t had one of those in decades, now— cholesterol and concern for his heart—but it was always his favorite.
And Peter’s eyes shine the way they always did when he smiles, but the rest of him: the rest of him has seen more than Gregg can fathom, and the way it weighs on his face is something that Gregg would never have wished on him, could never have imagined, and Gregg thinks there’s not an afterlife that would make that so; there’s no space in his mind to conjure such an image.
He reaches for his grandson’s hand and squeezes as hard as his aged fingers can give.
“Peter,” he says, and it’s a rough kind of thing, but to say it: to say feels like it makes it true.
And Peter grins at him, and that smile’s a thing that Gregg knows, and it’s on a face he doesn’t, and it’s real.
They were coming to find him, Peter tells him. Peter’d been scared to look for the family, didn’t want to know anything bad, and he looks ashamed of that, for a second, and his hand goes to his pocket for a moment before he breathes deep and meets Gregg’s eyes again.
“Stark looked you up, though,” Peter murmurs. “Told me you were still here. We left right after.”
Gregg puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder, grips tight.
“If I said that I was gonna ground you for not stayin’ put like you were told,” Gregg starts, voice soft, still brimming with disbelief; “would you come back to the house with me on your own, just ‘cause? Save me the trouble of tryin’a discipline a grown man?”
And Peter laughs, a full thing, a little shaky, and he smirks broad, blinding:
“So long as you don’t mind the rest of the family coming, too.”
And something in Gregg aches at that, but it’s the same thing that sings, and Gregg’s saying before he can think twice—but even if he’s thought twice, it wouldn’t have made no difference:
“Hope you’ve got your own ride,” Gregg glances up at the tree’s higher branches. “Don’t think my Buick’s got it in her to fit the tall one.”
It’s not that Gregg’s been living in the past. The rooms have all been redecorated. More than once, in fact, because after Vicky and her husband moved out, after the house is no longer a home for a young girl again, Gregg had let Sammy have her way with the fixtures. She seemed to enjoy it. Her husband’s net worth was footing the bill, and Gregg wasn’t stupid. He could see the way she never wanted to go home.
But it’s not that he’s living in the past. It’s just that some things were for keeping; didn’t matter for how long.
“Oh my god.”
Gregg nearly falls to his knees when he watches Peter toss his coat on the chair in the corner of the room: the same chair, the same corner, in the exact same way he’d throw his jacket or his bag or his body on it all those years ago.
Gregg nearly falls to his knees with the image of it, but Peter: Peter’s the one who actually does.
“They’re all here,” he marvels, hands reaching out to trace the faces, to brush across the hair. “Look at them, they’re…”
“Damn, Quill,” the raccoon—Rocket—whistles low, taking on of the tiny dolls from the long row of shelves that they occupy. “I thought the one you pawned off on Yondu was a fluke.”
“I am Groot!”
They all turn to the hunched-over tree-man, who is pointing at the troll dolls with genuine glee, the branches near his head stretching out at angles to the right, to the left, straight up top.
The green one—Gamora—she’s the one who laughs first, but Gregg’s not far behind.
“Oh god,” Rocket shakes his head. “I cannot believe you. You’re copying the hairstyle of a stupid doll. You’re an embarrassment.”
Groot just grins wider as Peter starts cackling, and the body builder—Drax—commends the tree-man on his “admirably fluid camouflaging techniques.” And even Gregg can tell that Rocket didn’t mean any harm.
“I am Groot.” Groot’s eyes get wide as he tenderly grasps for one of the trolls with the rhinestones on their stomachs, pointing at the neon green gem and rolling the doll this way and that in his hold so that the sun streams in from the window to hit it, just so, and Gregg nearly jumps out his skin when the tree-man’s suddenly releasing his own spores of pure light to twinkle through the room and shine ‘round against the troll’s bellies.
A being of pure light…
Gregg shakes his head; clears it. Returns to the now.
“I, am Groot.” And Gregg can’t know what’s being said, exactly, but he can tell from the way the lights flicker a little, and the way the tree-man seem to hunch just a little bit smaller that there’s something not-quite-right.
Rocket opens his mouth to speak, but it’s Peter who frowns first, and then brightens.
“Oh, hey. Wait.” He gets up, reaches for the troll in Groot’s hand and cradles it gently, walking it over to its fellows of the shelf.
“Sorry, guys,” Peter mutters to the trolls as he gathers them up one by one. “And gals.”
He sits back down with a pile of the bejeweled things, and he must feel Gregg’s eyes on him in question, because he looks straight up, and there’s the boy, again: there’s Gregg’s grandson, then and now.
“Treasure trolls,” Peter smiles a little rueful, a little sad. “Used to make a wish on ‘em.”
And as soon as Peter pops the rhinestone off the first of the dolls, Gregg understands, and goes to grab the monofilament he’s got in the kitchen.
Gregg returns to Rocket flailing his arms at an obviously distressed Groot.
“No no, you big idiot, it’s fine, they don’t care that they’re being de-jeweled,” Rocket’s trying to explain as Peter pops the gem off the last pink doll. Gregg tosses the roll of fishing line Peter’s way and the smile he gets is worth the whole damned world.
“Here, man.” Peter’s knotting the string ‘round a gem and pulling a slip-knot through to hang on one of Groot’s branches. Gamora and Drax take note, and go about doing the same with the rest of the small mountain of cheap rhinestones, draping them on Groot’s appendages until the light-spores floating around them are half-near blinding, all the way to gorgeous as they glitter off the neon shades, as they make the plastic gems look precious, look real.
“There,” Peter leans back. “Now you’ve got all the colors, too.”
The tree-man’s smiling so hard that Gregg can’t help but join in too, but it’s not until after he rumbles out “We are Groot” that Gregg notices the way he’s sprouted longer branches all around, and is softly encompassing his friends in what looks like a wooden hug of some sort.
And Gregg, well.
Gregg’s not made of stone, and it’s one hell of an endearing sight. Strange as it may be.
He jumps a little when he feels the poke of a stick—or a limb, maybe, in the very real sense of the term.
“Groot’s,” Peter’s saying with a soft smile—a little bashful, but real fond, and something in Gregg’s chest just sort of hums with it, to think of his Peter finding family, finding home somewhere else, and being okay; “Groot’s kinda more tactile these days,” he says, by way of explanation, and Gregg doesn’t step back, mostly just shrugs, and it seems this Groot character takes that as an invitation to bring Gregg into his fold.
And hell: literally wooden though the embrace may be, it sure don’t feel anything near so stiff, or cold.
“I am Groot?” And it’s kind of crazy, the way that Gregg’s being hugged by a talking tree, whose words he can feel vibrating through the whip-like tendril of bark that’s twined ‘round his shoulders.
“Yeah, but I don’t have the speakers,” Peter’s saying, but Gregg looks up, and Peter’s seeing exactly what Gregg’s thinking of in that very same moment as his eyes grow big, and he turns slowly to meet Gregg’s gaze.
“Wait,” Peter breathes. “Gramps, you’ve...”
Peter seems surprised at all the cassettes in the corner near the old boombox, but it’s just another one of those things made for keeping, really.
Mere lived for her music. No way in hell Gregg was getting rid of her collection.
“Jackson 5?” Peter asks hopefully, and Gregg feels a shiver of something like excitement shake from the branches around him as they let him go, as he gets slowly to his feet and ignores the popping and cracking of his joints, of his bones as he walks over, finds the right tape, and knows, somehow, which song it is they want.
It’s one of the great marvels of his life, when Gregg gets to watch the tree damn well dance under the disco lights of his own making, rhinestones shining in the dark.
He was never a sound sleeper, but age hasn’t done Gregg any favors in the full-night’s-rest department.
So he’s puttering around for a mug of something warm when he sees her.
She’s by herself, and she’s swaying carefully, mindfully around his living room; it takes a minute, once Gregg’s got his concentration fixed on the sight before him, to realize what it is she’s humming as she tries to move in time.
The Five Stairsteps. Mere’d played that damned song until Gregg could barely stand to hear anything, let alone that tune, those lyrics.
It brings a smile to his face, now.
“You need a partner?” he asks softly, setting his drink aside as she spins, and she looks taken aback, looks chastened and vicious all at once before she calms, and looks at him with bright eyes as he smiles at her, gentle-like, because she reminds him of his girls; because she looks like she could maybe use a good, tight hug but isn’t in the place to take one, to stand it.
And smiles, Minnie always said, were the next best thing you could give.
So Gregg smiles.
“Dancing’s hard,” he says, because words seem right, here, over silence. “My wife made me learn for our wedding, damn near broke half my bones trying to figure it out.”
Gamora’s lips quirk, and he glances at her for permission to play something else, to change up the song. She quirks her head, and Gregg thinks that means it’s fine—she may need a good hug, but Gregg’s not stupid: the woman’s armed to the teeth, her muscles tensed, honed for battle in every moment, and that’s what’s causing her need for something softer, he thinks. Adjusting to civilian life.
Or else, he thinks, remembering the knives he’d seen tucked at various points along her frame: adjusting to a point.
He remembers what that felt like, once upon a time.
He pops open the tape deck and slides in The Righteous Brothers.
“I learned on this one,” Gregg says wistfully, opens his arms and waits for Gamora to take in his frame, to take in the posture of his body and glance at him warily as he nods her closer, as she moves slowly toward him and takes his hands in askance. He guides one of her hands slowly, and she’s a fast learner: she gets the second hand without any trouble.
“We danced to it at the ceremony,” Gregg says, and he’s not as smooth, not as spry as he was, but there’s life left.
Thank God: there’s life left.
“Peter learned on this one, too,” Gregg adds, taking a chance on the lingering glances between those two that he’s not nearly close enough to the grave just yet to have missed.
He doesn’t dwell though, doesn’t even watch to gauge her reaction. Gives her space.
He remembers less with Vick, but more with Mere and Sammy, that space was best, in times like these.
Space, but keeping close at hand.
“It’s less about the steps than the rhythm,” Gregg adds as they sway a bit. “Particularly with him.”
He didn’t mean to say that, really. He’s not so invested in his long-lost-but-recently-returned grandson’s love life.
“He treats you right, doesn’t he?”
She blinks at him, wide-eyed, and Gregg gives himself permission to blink right back, and he can see it. She’s not just blindsided by the question. There’s something bigger that confuses her.
Gregg feels something twist in his gut, sad and solemn, when he realizes that what confuses her is the idea of it.
Being treated right.
“Nevermind,” Gregg murmurs brusquely, rushed, and they go back to dancing. Something in her settles, and he finds she’s got a knack for the smoothness of the motion. He suspects that it comes from using that kind of grace in a different setting.
If there’s one thing Gregg appreciates, though, it’s versatility.
“This is a very,” Gamora breathes out after a stretch, after a time, just as the track’s winding toward a close. “A very pleasant song,” she breathes out, glances at him with a question first before following through: “For dancing.”
Gregg smiles at her, warm as he can.
“I always thought so.”
The music stops, and they stop, and Gregg’s ready for bed, now; hopes Gamora is, too, because it’s safe, here. And she deserves some rest.
She drops his hands and moves back half a step, considering him for a moment before nodding.
“Thank you,” she says. “For showing me.”
She’s gone before he can respond, but somehow, it feels like that’s the way it should be.
Gregg’s an earlier riser than he’s ever been, and he likes to play at usefulness. He’d started building the dollhouses for the girls, way back when, and turned out, there were still people ‘round here that like a taste of the old fashioned. He’s got an order out in his work shed for a nice couple to give their youngest for her third birthday, and he’s ahead of schedule, but: no time like the present.
He grabs a cup of coffee—decaf; for the heart, according to Vicky—and heads out.
He doesn’t expect the woodshed to be already occupied.
“Oh,” he says, a little dumb in the face of the raccoon and the body builder this early in the morning. Particularly considering that they’re apparently taking inventory of his back wall. “Hello.”
“Some stockpile you got here,” Rocket drawls, two of Gregg’s rifles in hand.
Gregg shrugs. “I’ve been known to take a weekend for the hunt.” Hard not to, ‘round these parts.
“These knives are superb in their craftsmanship,” Drax says, deliberate and reverent as he inspects two blades Gregg damn-near forgot he owned.
“Thanks?” he ventures, taking a closer look at them in the alien’s hands. “They were my grandad’s,” he nods, placing the knives in his mind, remembers their origin. “Old as the hills.”
Drax’s head snaps upward, pinning Gregg with a skeptical look.
“Which hills?” he asks. “They are worn by the years, indeed, but I am aware of many hills much older—”
“Drax,” Rocket interrupts, a little weary. “Figure of speech.”
The raccoon shifts his gaze to Gregg. It’s only then that Gregg notices said raccoon’s been disassembling his firearms.
“You got a cane?”
Gregg doesn’t know what that has to do with anything, but it’s a point of pride that, after rebuffing endless nagging from his daughters, Gregg can answer: “I don’t.”
Rocket looks annoyed, but undeterred. “Dentures?”
Gregg shakes his head and grins broadly, tapping a canine. “All mine.”
“Sonuva…” Rocket damn near growls as he runs agitated hands over his face before looking up at Gregg, accusing: “Just gotta take all the possibility out of the moment, doncha? I see where El Capitán gets it from.”
“I will clean these, and restore them to their proper condition,” Drax picks back up, lifting the knives up indicatively. “They may be as old as some very young hills, but once I am through, they will slice sharp, like the peaks of the oldest of mountains.”
Gregg mulls over his response for a few moments before settling on: “Thank you.”
“Your grandson is a noble moron,” he says, starting in on the knives. “I would follow him to many farther reaches than your Outlaw Planet.”
Gregg doesn’t think that’s as offensive as it would probably be in any other context; in fact, he thinks it might be a real high compliment.
“S’true,” Rocket’s reluctantly putting Gregg’s guns back together. “Quill’s kind of a dumbass,” he shrugs, sliding the bolt to the spring with a click. “But he’s our dumbass.”
“Hmm,” Drax nods thoughtfully. “Your use of figurative terminology is admirable, my friend. And accurate,” Drax looks up and meets Gregg’s eyes. “He is Our Dumbass.”
Definitely a compliment.
Gregg settles in and gets to work on the armoire for the dollhouse as Drax cleans the knives, and Rocket strips his guns, and he’s gotta admit.
S’kinda nice having company.
Again: sleep’s not Gregg’s closest friend, these days.
He wakes early the next morning, though, to what might be the sweetest sight he’s seen since the late 80s.
Because there’s Peter, sprawled out over the couch with Minnie’s old afghan draped over him, toe-tapping out the end of it, his legs too long, and Jesus, Jesus—
That’s Mere’s old Walkman in his ears.
Gregg’s still reeling by the time he sees that Peter’s eyes have shifted to focus on him.
By the time he sees what Peter’s eyes have shifted from.
“Gamora spotted it on the bookshelf,” Peter says, his thumb holding his place in a yellowed old copy of The Adventures of Star-Lord. “She asked if I’d named myself after this hero.”
“Named himself after you,” Gregg manages to get out, though it’s not very loud, not very strong.
“You’re an author,” Peter almost marvels, and Gregg never realized just how much he missed being looked at like that, like he was unbelievable, like he was monumental, like he could do anything, and Peter’s his grandson, yes, but Peter’s dad was never there, and Peter is more than a just a generation-removed from Gregg, Peter might as damn well be his own boy, for the way he helped Mere raise him, for the way they lived so close, and Gregg missed him.
“You’re published. Gramps, that’s amazing.”
“Amazing? Seems like you’ve outdone me on that account, Pete,” and it’s true, and Peter just ducks his head and grins, still a kid deep down, Gregg thinks.
Peter shakes his head. “Dunno about that. S’kind of a crazy story, really.”
Gregg moves to settle at the end of the couch; Peter curls his legs up to make room, and Gregg sits, but then he pats the tops of his knees until Peter stretches back out, and Gregg remembers this with shorter legs, and it’s thick in his chest when he says:
“Crazy story, huh?” he glances at Peter, and Gregg cannot for the life of him believe this is happening, cannot contain the way that joy’s what’s pumping in his veins, now, and it’s a beautiful thing.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning, hmm?” Gregg leans back, ready to hear it, and Peter lights up, because Peter’s the one Gregg told the tales for.
Peter’s the one who loves a good story. Always loved to hear one.
Always loved to tell one, too.
Gregg’s more than ready for his Star-Lord to share the real-life version of the adventure.
It’s warm outside. Prettiest day they’ve had in a while.
It’s a good thing, Gregg thinks. It’s fitting.
“Hey Mom,” Peter’s saying to the stone, and Gregg’s doing what he does best, just now, because Peter’s so much like Mere.
Giving him space, but keeping close at hand.
“I’m,” Peter’s murmuring. “I’m sorry. For,” and Peter’s voice is cracking, and it damn well breaks Gregg’s heart when Peter’s breath comes heavy, rapid, strained: “For every…”
Peter trails, and Gregg can hear the force of it when he swallows hard, so he reaches, grasps Peter’s shoulder, and Peter stills.
“Thank you,” Peter starts again, talking to the grave marker. “For helping me, when we,” he shakes his head, and Gregg’s hand doesn’t shift from his shoulder when it tightens, tenses—Gregg just holds firm, steady.
“And for the tapes,” Peter adds, and it’s a watery sound, but there’s a smile in it, and Gregg knows that feeling.
Gregg knows that feeling, in this place.
“Those songs saved the galaxy,” Peter’s smiling, even as his voice breaks again: “You saved the galaxy.”
There’s quiet for a moment, where there’s only Peter’s breathing trying to get itself under control and the rustle of the leaves.
Peter steps forward, and Gregg stays back as Peter crouches, gets close to the marker and traces the etchings, the dates, the name.
“I haven’t found Dad,” Peter whispers. “Not sure I...I dunno,” Peter shakes his head. “He’s out there, though.”
Gregg’s watching the way that Peter’s hands grip the edges of the headstone, watches the way he grips harder, knuckles brightening as his shoulders shake as he rasps out:
“I love you, Mom. I miss you.”
Then Peter’s rocking back on his heels and standing as he wipes a hand over his face, as inconspicuous as he can manage—which is not inconspicuous at all, Gregg notes: never was.
“I hope it’s pure light there, too,” Peter breathes out. “Like with Dad. I hope it’s beautiful,” he leans again, and grasp the top of the gravestone. “You deserve beautiful.”
And it’s maybe a dangerous thing, a horrible lapse of attention, that Gregg hadn’t noticed the massive tree approaching them, here, until said tree is walking up to Peter and placing a barky hand on his arm.
“I am Groot,” he says, and stretches out his free hand, in which there are flowers.
From which, there are flowers.
The damned Ent has sprouted a bouquet more gorgeous, more colorful, more worthy of his Mere than anything Gregg’s ever seen.
“The mother of a warrior,” and it’s when Drax approaches, voice low, full of something like homage; it’s when Drax approaches followed by the others that Gregg realizes they’re all here; they’ve all come.
“The mother of a hero,” Gamora adds, a little wry maybe, but genuine as she walks to Peter’s other side, stands tall.
“Of our dumbass,” Rocket tacks on: fondly, Gregg suspects, for him. “‘Course we’re gonna pay our respects.”
So long as you don’t mind the rest of the family coming, too, Gregg remembers the words, from the diner.
He gets it, now. He really gets it.
“I am Groot?”
Gregg blinks back the water in his eyes and looks up, sees them all glancing back toward him, the tree reaching outward, offering a hand with one last flower to be plucked.
And Gregg knows the world’s changed. Of course he knows that.
He just never knew that change could feel so good.